One Last Look Before Turning the Page

Before turning the page on the next great era that never was, Chip tries to make sense of what will happen going forward for the Sox and Dodgers.

'Adrian Gonzalez' photo (c) 2012, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Yes, yes, yes.  I know.  Another article on the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and the immortal Nick Punto to the Dodgers?  We’re all a little sick of hearing about something that’s been discussed ad nauseum for the past few days, but this is one of the biggest trades in Red Sox history.  Still, you’re going to have to sit through one more article, as I’d like to provide my take on situation.

Background

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Red Sox season was going nowhere.  Every time they’d get on a hot run to bring them over .500 for the season, it was immediately followed by a five game losing streak that negated any momentum.  Injuries, poor performance, mental errors all plagued what has become a nightmarish season.  Clearly, changes needed to be made, but how?

The key to Ben Cherington’s plan all along has been regaining the financial flexibility that was lost in 2010 after the Red Sox went off of the blueprint they’d be championing since November 2002.  To do that, he needed to find a way to trade a few of the Red Sox’s biggest contracts without eating a sizable chunk of the money.  This would be easier said than done.  Most of the payroll’s biggest contracts were considered albatrosses.

Carl Crawford, who recently underwent season ending Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, has been plagued by inconsistent performance and injuries since signing a 7 year $142M contract in December 2010.  John Lackey, also recovering from Tommy John surgery, has been hugely disappointing since signing for 5/$82.5M.  Josh Beckett?  He was the granddaddy of them all.  His deal clocked in at 4/$68M.  His failure to become the true ace many had expected him to become was certainly a sticking point with many who argued he was unworthy of his salary.  Still, it was his surly demeanor, off-the-field (but clubhouse related) scandals, and distrust of the media that made him Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of the media and the fan base.  Given all of the warts associated with these contracts, Cherington was facing an uphill battle to get much of anything of value in return.

Luckily, Boston did have one contract that wasn’t an albatross–Adrian Gonzalez’s.  While A-Gon hadn’t quite lived up expectations, his 7-year $154M contract was a relative bargain in comparison to the megadeals received by comparable players at his position:  Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, and Joey Votto.  As a result, his deal was still pretty moveable.

The problem with moving Gonzalez is he was one of the few players the club could seriously build around.  Players of his ilk come around rarely.  Trading away a 30-year old legitimate middle-of-the-order power bat is both potentially risky, and not a move most high revenue clubs are in the habit of making.  In fact, I’d be willing to wager that Ben Cherington had no intention of trading A-Gon when he placed him on waivers last week.  Things changed when the Dodgers claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett.

In theory, Cherington had three options with A-Gon and Beckett: (1) pull one or both back from waivers; (2) negotiate a trade with the Dodgers; or (3) release one or both, thus causing the Dodgers to eat their salaries.  Option three was never in the cards with Gonzalez.  In spite of his underperformance in 2012, he was far too valuable to lose for nothing but salary relief.  Beckett, on the other hand, appeared to be a sunk cost and a clubhouse cancer.  Surely, releasing him had to have been considered.

Option 2 was certainly very interesting to Cherington.  He had a piece the Dodgers clearly wanted in Gonzalez.  In pretty much every way, he was a major upgrade over the light-hitting, James Loney.  In order to acquire Gonzalez, it only made sense to make absorbing Beckett’s contract a contingent on completing the deal.  If Ned Colletti and the Dodger ownership group weren’t interested in accepting those terms, he could simply pull A-Gon from waivers.  Not just content in unloading A-Gon and Beckett, Cherington took it a step further in blowing up the team when he included Crawford and Punto in the deal.

In return, “all he got” were two top starting pitching prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa; a middling first baseman in James Loney; a free swinging, power hitting outfielder in Jerry Sands, and some organizational filler in Ivan DeJesus.  Not a bad deal for spinning off three massive contracts and only eating $12M in salary.

Short-Term Effects – Red Sox

In the short-term, not much changes for the Red Sox in terms of their 2012 playoff chances.  Those have been dead for a few weeks now.  All that said, the clubhouse atmosphere has finally been stripped of much of it’s negativity, and the club can begin to heal.  There are, of course, still chemistry issues to deal with in both the clubhouse and front office, but this move is a good start.

In terms of the roster, the Red Sox have a rare opportunity to take a long look and audition some of their young players and borderline veterans for next season.  This means we’ll get extended looks at Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate; Franklin Morales in the starting rotation; Jose Iglesias at shortstop; and Jerry Sands/Ryan Kalish in the outfield (among others).

Short -Term Effects – Dodgers

For the Dodgers, the addition of Gonzalez is huge.  Despite having Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier, A.J. Ellis, and Shane Victorino in their lineup, they’ve only scored 518 runs.  That’s good for 12th out of 16 in the National League.  Granted, Kemp missed roughly 50 games due to injury and Ramirez and Victorino were July 31st deadline acquisitions.  Now, with A-Gon on the club, their lineup looks pretty imposing.  In fact, they might have the National League’s best lineup.

Josh Beckett will slot into a strong rotation that already features Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, and Chris Capuano.  He’s no longer under the pressure to be the staff ace, nor will he have to face the murderous lineups of the AL East.  In theory, this should be an overall victory for him.  We may not see it until next year, as it seems he’s still struggling with some shoulder issues.  Crawford’s affect on the team won’t be felt until next season.  Regardless, he should be a welcome addition to a roster that has seen far too many games started in LF by Bobby Abreu and Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Either way, the Dodgers have to be considered one of the two prohibitive favorites for the National League pennant.  It will be interesting to see how this team gels.

Long-Term Effects – Red Sox

Beyond this season, this trade can be seen as nothing but positive for the Red Sox.  In one fell swoop, they shed $58M off of their 2013 payroll.  Now, with only $45.6M committed to four players (Dustin Pedroia, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz), Ben Cherington has a lot of money to play with for next season.  Furthermore, they’ve all but guaranteed they won’t be hit with luxury tax penalties in either 2013 or 2014.  This means the club saved significantly more than just the three big contracts they shed.

Now, we shouldn’t assume that the Red Sox will be players for big named guys like Zack Greinke or Josh Hamilton.  The last thing they want to do is get hamstrung with more bad contracts.  Greinke, for all of his sabermetric accolades, has only put together one superlative season, and that was in 2009.  Since then, he’s put up seasons with tremendous peripherals, but only received good (but unspectacular) results.  After awhile, we have to stop saying he’s unlucky, and start accepting him as a pitcher who underperforms his peripherals for one reason or another.  Hamilton, for all of his awards and seemingly superhuman achievements, is an injury prone outfielder, has a long history with substance abuse, and is on wrong side of 30.  He’s far too risky for anything more than a three year deal.

Keep in mind, the Red Sox have several key players eligible for arbitration this year including Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Alfredo Aceves, and Franklin Morales (among others).  A sizable chunk of their freed up money will go toward re-signing this group.  Plus, the Red Sox have big decisions to make on impending free agents, David Ortiz and Cody Ross.  After the seasons each player put together, they’ll likely command multi-year deals with significant raises.  The smart move is to sign their free agents (provided their demands don’t spiral out of control), and fill up the rest of the roster with good complimentary players.  Cherington and company do not need to build a $170M playoff caliber roster.  $120-130M might turn out to be sufficient for 2013.

Lastly, this trade allowed Red Sox were able to rebuild a weak point in their farm system:  young starting pitching.  Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster give the Red Sox a pair of top power pitching prospects in the upper ranges of the organization.  De la Rosa is ready for the major leagues, and should step in once he recovers from Tommy John surgery.  Webster has pitched in AA this season, but he might benefit from another short stint in Portland to start 2013.  Either way, he should be ready for the majors in 2014.  Outside of De la Rosa and Webster, only Matt Barnes and Henry Owens profile as legitimate front-end to middle-of-the-rotation major league starting pitchers.  Both are still in A-ball, and aren’t expected to help until 2015 or 2016.

Long-Term Effects – Dodgers

In the short-term, it’s hard not to love this move for the Dodgers.  In one move they vastly improved their team for 2012 and 2013.  Beyond that, it gets a little murky.

Prior to making the blockbuster trade, the Dodgers had $135M committed for 2013.  Now?  It’s $193M–to 17 players.  Think about that for a second.  $193M!*  That’s a huge financial commitment by the Dodgers.  Luckily, they only have two players eligible for arbitration, and neither should break the bank with their cases.  Still, the huge payroll amount creates a lot of financial inflexibility and potentially hamstrings the team if they need to make a few moves around the trading deadline.  Granted, ownership could turn a blind eye to the payroll situation by adding payroll regardless.  The Dodgers are working on a huge TV deal that should net them upwards of $4B in revenues.  Essentially, they’ll be printing money.

* Just for the sake of comparison, the New York Yankees have only $113M committed for 2013.  Cano’s and Granderson’s options will almost certainly be exercised, bringing it to $141M.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the payroll situation gets complicated even further beyond 2013.  In 2014, they have nearly $134M committed to eight players, and four player option buyouts.  Furthermore, they have the added complications of nailing down deals for two key impending free agents:  Hanley Ramirez and Clayton Kershaw.  Unless something drastically changes, it’ll be very tough to allow either player (especially Kershaw) walk away. Both could easily command $20-25M salaries (per season).  Between 2015-2017, they currently have roughly $90M committed each season to five players.  Again, that’s without Ramirez and Kershaw who could easily bring that total to $130-140M.

I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but the Dodgers have put themselves into a rather precarious situation payroll wise.  They’ve destroyed their own financial flexibility by taking on the Red Sox’s biggest (and worst) contracts.  I should note that the Dodgers would come out huge winners if they can find a way to win a title at some point between now and 2014. That’s easier said than done.  Sometimes having the best team on paper can’t get you into the playoffs let alone a championship.  Just ask the 2011 Red Sox and Phillies about that.

If the Dodgers don’t win a championship, they could be in a world of trouble as most of their core talent descends into the decline phases of their careers.  The only way they could avoid it is if they either make some shrewd trades or value free agent signings and/or supplement their core with young, high-end talent from their farm system.  Unfortunately for the Dodgers, those things aren’t Ned Colletti’s strong suits.  It will be very interesting to see how these next few years progress as they could very easily be where the Red Sox were a few short years from now.

Categories: Boston Red Sox

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

4 Responses to “One Last Look Before Turning the Page” Subscribe

  1. Jeff August 29, 2012 at 1:06 PM #

    The most amusing way to look at the $12 mil the Sox agreed to take on in the trade: just say that the Sox agree to pay Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones' contracts for 2013. Ouch.

    • ChipBuck August 29, 2012 at 2:34 PM #

      Good call, Jeff! I can't believe I forgot to mention that!

  2. DezoPenguin August 29, 2012 at 4:23 PM #

    Hmm…I can't argue with anything you've said about the Red Sox here, but I'm not quite sure that I agree with your take on the Dodgers. Long-term…well, what you say rings true, but the question is whether it really does mean a lack of financial flexibility for the Dodgers, simply because if the Dodgers' ownership has decided to spend obscenely from here on out (great piece on this recently by Jonah Keri at ESPN) rather than self-imposing spending limits that have nothing to do with their actual revenues, they can be as flexible as they please. And, if you're right about the short-term impact on the team, I think that it becomes more likely that Colletti continues to operate with blank checks. (If, on the other hand, the Dodgers crater next year, then I think "fiscal responsibility" gets imposed really fast.)

    The part I'm not sure I agree with is that this trade makes the Dodgers "one of two prohibitive favorites" for the pennant (full disclosure here: I'm a Nationals fan and have been since they were the Expos in 1980). To even make the playoffs this year, they have to either catch the Giants for the NL West title (doable, given the loss of Cabrera off the Giants, Lincecum's shaky performances, and Vogelsong's recent hiccups, but it's still 3.5 to overcome) or pass any two of the Pirates, Cardinals, or Braves. The Pirates I can see them doing, since Pittsburgh's been held together with baling wire, duct tape, and good pitching all year, but I think the Braves and Cards are both better teams than the Dodgers are on paper and they have the lead in the standings.

    Consider: Gonzalez is an excellent upgrade over Loney, which can't help but improve the offense, but Kemp's been hampered by injuries, Hanley Ramirez is…basically Mike Aviles with more power and worse defense at this point in his career, Ethier is streaky, Victorino's done little since coming over, and while Kershaw is an ace, but Harang and Capuano are just solid and Billingsley just went to the DL, so that puts both Blanton and Beckett in the rotation for at least the next couple of weeks rather than the better of the two.

    As for 2013, well, LA's chances look better that 2012; certainly Gonzalez, Ramirez, and Crawford are better than the guys (Loney, Gordon/Uribe, Rivera/Abreu/etc.) than the Dodgers were running out there for the first four months of the year and the rotation looks good, but I again don't see them as being better than the Nationals, Reds, Braves, or Cardinals unless guys like Ramirez and Crawford revert to 2009 form. In the running, certainly, but prohibitive favorites? I don't see that, not unless more dramatic moves are in the offing during the offseason.

    The good news? This is a Red Sox blog, and I'm positive that despite the loss of A-Gon, this trade absolutely makes the Red Sox a better team for the long-term, and maybe even as soon as 2013.

  3. Walt in Maryland August 30, 2012 at 8:41 AM #

    Love the trade for the Sox, and like everyone else, my first reaction was "What were the Dodgers smoking?"

    But upon further review, as they say in the NFL, I can kind of see where the new L.A. owners are coming from. This trade isn't ONLY about making the Dodgers a more competitive baseball team. It's about putting them back on the sports radar in the nation's second-largest market.

    Gonzalez is a SoCal native and a Mexican-American. He is a PERFECT centerpiece for this team, which is in the process of negotiating a huge local TV rights deal. Think of him as the counterpoint to the Angels signing Pujols last winter.

    There is no question the Dodgers are a more interesting and marketable team after this deal (and the Hanley Ramirez deal before that). Supposedly, they also wanted Beckett. Crawford's contract can be viewed as the cost of getting the other guys.